When will enough be enough?

Joginder Singh

India and Mumbai, or Bombay, as you may like to call it, has been attacked in 14 places in one of the most terrible wars unleashed by terrorists. In the attack, which began on November 26 on the most posh areas and hotels of Mumbai, AK-47s, grenades, bombs and explosives, have been used. The encounter with the terrorists has lasted for nearly three days and so far 160 innocent people – including 14 policemen, six foreigners and seven hotel staff – have been killed, and over 327 people injured. All this is the work of about 25 terrorists who have wreaked havoc on India’s business capital. The terrorists came to Mumbai via sea, despite the heavy presence of Indian Navy and the Coast Guard, who have obviously failed in their duties. If Mumbai’s sea border cannot be safe, the situation must be much worse in other places along the coast.
It makes no difference what label these terrorists have – Fidayeens, Deccan or Indian Mujahideens. The fact is that a terrorist outfit, calling itself Deccan Mujahideens, has claimed responsibility for the attack, has called the Indian Army and the ATS weak, and has mocked them. The Prime Minister has said that the government will not cow down and will bring the guilty to book. He has also said that the security of people will not be compromised and laws will be tightened to ensure that terrorists do not take advantage of loopholes in the law.
All this is easier said than done, especially if our past experience is anything to go by. With the passage of time, the gravity of crime gets reduced. And with elections around the corner, the UPA’s coalition partners would not like to be seen supporting any tough measures against the jihadis. More than anything, the laughable official stand of the government has till now been that our existing laws are enough to tackle terrorism.
Prime Minster Manmohan Singh, the gentleman that he is, has more than once pointed out the “gaps” in our intelligence. Instead of saying that there has been a complete failure of intelligence, he has used the word “gaps”. There is no doubt that there has been recurrent failure of intelligence, whether it was in the July 2006 train bomb blasts in Mumbai, September 2008 serial bomb blasts in Delhi, or the latest terror strikes in Mumbai.
While this may be quibbling over words, there is no doubt that it is very much the responsibility of the central government to maintain the safety and integrity of the country, both against aggression from without and from within. It is also a fact that the reach of our central agencies is not only wider but also broader as they have overall view of the situation existing in the country at any given time. But the truth is that we do not have a clear anti-terrorist policy or strategy. What we do have is a knee-jerk reaction to events as they happen. And all is forgotten till the next incident.
The standard response, reactions and even the language of Indian leaders after terrorist attacks is entirely predictable: it is always a “cowardly attack”, always “innocents” are targeted and always “strict action” is promised against the perpetrators. But the ground reality is that after a visit to the scene of a terror attack, followed by a few statements and the announcement of compensation by the government to salve its own conscience and compensate for its failure, things are back to square one.
All this about negligence and the failure of intelligence and security agencies has been said again and again. But since nobody listens, it must be said again: No accountability is enforced; Intelligence agencies take shelter by sending vague, inactionable information, or at times pass off guesswork as intelligence. Some of the suggested steps to strengthen our response to terrorism includes involving the Muslim community in the fight against terrorism, by enlisting them in intelligence and security agencies, stricter border patrolling, a national citizens register, and the use of technology – installing CCTV cameras in all important and vulnerable public places.
Not even one per cent of crime is committed with licensed weapons. Indeed, criminals and terrorists do not need a license to carry arms and kill people. But innocent victims do, even it they just want to defend themselves. Licensing of weapons should be liberalised so that if the government is not able to protect the people, they can do so themselves. There is a legal right to private defence, to kill those who are trying to kill you. But this right, in this climate of terrorists having a free run of the country, is rendered null and void because most applications for a gun license get the same response: “No”. Private security agencies should be involved in a big way and weapons must be licensed to them so that they can protect private, and even government, establishments.
There is no tough law in place to fight and eliminate terrorism. Instead, the central government is splitting hair over whether Gujarat and Rajasthan need a tougher anti-terrorist or not. Not only those two states, the entire country needs tough laws. India’s fight against terrorism lies in the domain of the government as it has the manpower, the intelligence agencies, however rudimentary and ineffective, and the weaponry.
If there is a will to fight terrorism and create a federal agency, the government can do it overnight with a single ordinance. The government needs to stop giving the impression of being soft on terrorists.